Creating habits for a healthy new year
This has certainly been a challenging year in many respects. And while everyone has had their own unique 2020, we have all had our share of the struggle. As we look to 2021, let's collectively agree to place health and quality of life front and center. Maybe you've been unable to stick with your usual exercise routine or you've found yourself craving comfort foods. Maybe you've been ill and just can't seem to get your health back on track. Whatever your today looks like, think about what you can do to improve how you feel and then add to that over the next 365 days.
Typically in January, we see an explosion of diet trends, exercise devices, and nutritional supplements promising weight loss and the body of your dreams. It's estimated that
Americans spend about 72 billion dollars each year on weight loss, but often to no avail. We change for a period of time to follow fad diets or exercise programs and perhaps see some good results, but we always seem to end up where we started.
While there’s definitely nothing wrong with creating healthy goals for the new year, a lot of us choose goals that are unrealistic or ones that don’t fit our established lifestyle and routine. This sets us up for failure and we end up giving up completely until next year.
This year, let’s focus on attainable goals that will improve our quality of life and how we feel daily. While drastic changes can be accomplished and maintained for some, many times it’s the small changes we make over time that really create the health and life we desire.
We are all unique and require a personalized plan, so it's best to work with a qualified professional. But if you want to get started on your own, learning to recognize a fad diet or program and steering clear is a good place to start. If you see a program that fits any of these categories, you may want to keep looking:
· Promises dramatic weight loss in a short period of time
· Removes entire categories of food (such as fruit)
· Restricts the variety of foods you can consume
· Sounds too good to be true
· Includes testimonials from celebrities
· Forces you to buy a specific supplement
· Is based on non-scientific studies
While there are definitely specific therapeutic diets and programs for disease conditions that require strict guidelines, those plans need to be administered by a qualified professional and are normally for the short-term until the long-term meal plan can be established for that specific person.
For most people hoping to improve health, lose weight, feel better, and avoid chronic disease conditions, making consistent lifestyle changes over time works like a charm!
Take a look at each lifestyle category below and consider your typical routine. When determining your health goals for 2021, check out some of the solutions provided and think about how you can incorporate them into your established daily routine. Making small adjustments to your norm means you’re more likely to reach your goal(s).
1. Think about your sleep habits: Do you follow a sleep routine? Do you watch television or play on your phone right before bed? Do you eat heavy meals before bed? Do you wake up frequently throughout the night? Do you awaken refreshed? Do you feel as though you never catch up on sleep?
· Aim for a routine sleep pattern (preferably in bed before 10pm and up around 6am) – if you work night shift, aim for 8 hours of uninterrupted, restful sleep
· Stop food intake 3 hours before bed
· Avoid blue light from electronics for at least an hour before bed
· Take an Epsom salt bath about 30 minutes before bed
· Avoid excessive liquids before bed
· Do not smoke or drink alcohol before bed
· Sleep in a dark, cold, quiet environment
· Exercise in the morning instead of evening
2. Think about your exercise habits: Do you have an exercise routine? Do you over-exercise? Do you incorporate strength training, cardiovascular, and flexibility exercises? Do you do the same routine over and over? Does your exercise challenge your body?
· Establish an exercise routine
· If you are an over-exerciser, think about how you feel and back off where need be
· Incorporate all different types of training and include lifting weights and/or body weight training, flexibility exercises such as yoga and pilates, and cardiovascular exercises like biking, brisk walking, or running
· Choose challenging exercises, but also allow your body to rest when needed
· Fuel your workouts appropriately
· Change your routine every few weeks
3. Think about your stress level: Do you feel excess stress surrounding work, finances, family conflict? Do you feel anxious? Do you notice extreme fatigue despite adequate rest? Do you feel you have too much to do and not enough time? Do you have difficulty falling asleep due to racing thoughts? Do you have heart palpitations?
· Practice meditation daily – even just 5 minutes of focusing on your breath can help reduce stress (yoga, tai chi, or qigong are great for this)
· Become more organized to prevent excess stress
· Ask for help when you need to
· Keep a journal or talk to a friend
· Learn to say no when you are overwhelmed
4. Think about your eating habits: Do you eat mostly convenience foods? Do you cook for yourself? How many servings of fruits do you eat daily? How many servings of vegetables do you eat daily? Do you eat high fiber foods? Do you eat too much sugar? Do you include fermented foods? Do you eat healthy fats? Do you eat fast food frequently? Do you eat ultra-processed food? Do you eat at routine times? Do you feel bloated or have other digestive distress?
· Establish a routine eating schedule
· Try to rest from food for 12 hours per day (a 12- hour fast overnight for example)
· Learn to cook the majority of your own meals
· Avoid food-like substances (ultra-processed foods with multiple ingredients)
· Choose whole foods in their natural state as much as possible
· Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables per day
· Eat a fermented food daily (sauerkraut, Kimchi, Miso, olives, pickles, kefir, yogurt)
· Choose healthy fats like olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter
· Avoid sugar and inflammatory fats like margarine, hydrogenated vegetable oils, & soybean oil
· Learn to read food labels
· Avoid foods that cause you digestive distress
· Avoid eating in front of the television or anything else that’s a distraction
· Look for good quality food (i.e. Organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, cage-free, local)
5. Think about your community: Do you have strong social support? Do you feel lonely? Do you engage others in social activities? Do you participate in any groups? Do you have close ties with your family and friends? Do you contribute meaningfully to your community?
· Join a group like a church or support group
· Keep in contact with loved ones
· Volunteer for a local organization
· Tell people how you feel about them
· Plan social gatherings
When thinking about how you want to feel every day, consider the barriers you place in your own way. The majority of our health outcomes and quality of life depends on us. Genetics accounts for very little of what happens to us and it’s the small, healthy things we do every single day that sets us up for a life free from disease.